The Interested Observer

Lhasa down the middle

March 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Lhasa down the middle

“Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place,” said the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. He was referring to China’s policy of encouraging the ethnic Han majority to migrate to Tibet, restrictions on Buddhist temples and re-education programs for monks. — via NPR

Just as there was an East Berlin and a West Berlin, visitors to Lhasa will find the Old Town surrounding the Potala Palace and what the locals call “Chinatown” a smooth slick strip of wide boulevards shopping malls, brand name hotels and cheap souvenirs made not by hand but by machine in sweatshops far away from Tibet.

There is a tension between the two cultures that becomes apparent to anyone reaching for their first gasp of thin air in the Autonomous Region. And it worries me that we in the West ignore the Tibet-China problem because Tibet has been stereotyped as a “celebrity cause” with the celebrity devotion ringing a bit hollow at time. I also suspect the Dali Lama has a sort of new-agey patina to those who don’t really get how the politics, culture and religion of the Tibetan people are so intertwined and the Chinese government’s sincere belief that Tibet is part of China and there is no room in China for anything that is not Chinese. This isn’t particularly the fault of the government, but rather a cultural concept that China belongs to the Chinese, specifically the Han Chinese. In the west and especially in the United States with its “melting pot” traditions, don’t really understand why cultures can’t exist side by side elesewhere in the world.

Comments Off on Lhasa down the middleTags: Big Ideas · Tibet

Looking at Lhasa, darkly

March 14th, 2008 · Comments Off on Looking at Lhasa, darkly

from the New York Times– March 2008

Comments Off on Looking at Lhasa, darklyTags: Tibet

There are no pictures

March 14th, 2008 · Comments Off on There are no pictures

I am thinking about Tibet today. I spent part of my summer there, learning about the people and the culture and experimenting with different remedies for altitude sickness. Even in the oldest parts of town, there was internet access, cell phone access and cable TV. Apparently that is gone now. There are no pictures. I worry that the violence may give the Chinese all the justification they need to completely overrun and revoke anything autonomous in what still the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In Tibet, tourists are advised not to mention the Dali Lama. Tourists are advised to go as far as to rip pages out of their Western guidebooks that mention anything about Tibet’s history with the Chinese. Most importantly, tourists are told never to talk with locals about politics or religion. To do so, the guidebooks say, is to put the lives of your guests in danger.

Last summer, the lines were long to enter Potala Palace in the center of Lhasa. We made small talk with our guide, but finally we ran out of things to say. Then he looked up at the palace and shook his head. “Look what they have done to this most holy place. ” He spoke softly, but still loud enough for us to hear. We all looked at each other and we didn’t know if we should respond or even if he wanted us to respond. We got nervous.

To an American or Western reader, this may sound silly or melodramatic, but it’s not. Back in Beijing, we studied Chinese law, with professors who openly questioned their country’s legal system and ticked off on their fingers the many legal loopholes around the “one child per family rule.” But Tibet is different. There is a tension between the Tibetan people and the Han Chinese that even a camera toting tourist can feel.

“They have taken this most holy place and they have desecrated it,” he said, I think to himself. “The army has made offices here. It is not a place for an army.”

During our time in Tibet, we learned that our guide had originally wanted to be a monk. He had gone to India to study with the Dali Lama, but clearly something happened and he was now a tour guide. I thought perhaps he had to leave the monetary to support his family. He never spoke of them. We never asked. We spoke in code a lot of the time. We asked him to show us “authentic” Tibetan shops where we could buy “authentic” Tibetan souvenirs. The guidebooks advise tourists that the best way to help the Tibetan people is to patronize their shops and restaurants. Walking through the old square, the untrained eye can’t tell the difference between the locally run and the Chinese knockoff shops. We did travel to what our guide called “Chinatown,” the ultra modern section of the city with shopping malls, Western style hotels and wide paved boulevards. In this part of town, close your eyes and you could be anywhere in the world.

We saw monks everywhere, although we were told that the Chinese government has placed a legal limit on how many Tibetans may enter the monestaries. Our guide led us through sparsely populated prayer and study halls telling us that once, long ago, these rooms had been packed with students. I don’t think he was bitter, I think he was sad. Just very very sad.

the new york times puts out the call for pictures here

Comments Off on There are no picturesTags: Big Ideas · Tibet

March 4th, 2008 · Comments Off on

Copyright law rarely comes to mind when one thinks of tattoo artists, but perhaps its time has come.

One of my friends is absolutely hooked on those “ink” shows on cable. She watches them all: “L.A. Ink,” “Miami Ink” and “London Ink.” In one episode, she noticed one tattoo artist copying another’s design for a customer and she was wondering if there was some sort of copyright protection for original works of art “fixed in the tangible medium of expression.” This phrase most certainly applies to the original works of art “fixed” onto the body.

But it’s not quite that simple. Marisa Kakoulas outlines some of the problems regarding ink and copyright here. She addresses two key issues, first that tattoos are original works of art that typically begin as drawings then reproduced on the human body. In order to successfully sue for copyright infringement, the design must be substantially similar. “Thus,” she writes, “a custom tattoo on an 18-year old supermodel copied onto a 300-pound couch potato would be in violation of the original work’s copyright protection.”

Christopher Harkins, in his article, “Tatoos and Copyright Infringement: Celebrities, Marketers and Businesses Beware of the Ink” in Reed v. Nike, Inc. when an NBA star Rasheed Wallace’s tattoo, designed by Matthew Reed, was featured prominently in a Nike ad. Reed registered the copyright for the design and sued Nike. As the copyright owner, Reed claimed that under ection 106 of the Copyright Act of 1978, Nike infringed three of his exclusive rights: (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work; (2) to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; and, (3) to distribute copies of the copyrighted work for sale to the public. Harkins says the implications of the Reed case are far-reaching. “Unless the tattooist’s potential intellectual property is resolved, the
celebrities and the companies they sponsor may have no alternative. To their dismay, they might need to digitally remove the tattoo from the commercial hot, or cover up the tattoo, thereby showing less skin.”

While there is all kinds of potential for copyright litigation from a variety of aspects from a fellow artist copying a unique design to an unauthorized reproduction as in the Reed case, Kakoulas suggest that the Body Modification community is not as litigious as say, the Recording Industry Association of America. In her informal survey of the tatto artist community she confirmed what she already knew: that this is a community of creative individuals who pursue their art for its own sake and eschew the complications of lawyers, accountants and excel spreadsheets.

The bottom line is that as the tattoo artist’s work becomes more visible, more unique and more mainstream, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to protect designs that were created with great imagination and executed with great care. Registering a copyright or a trademark for a particularly creative design is not giving into corporate protocols but to prevent oneself from the situation Reed found himself in — seeing his work co-opted by Nike, without even considering that there is an artist behind the ink.

Protecting one’s work via copyright (and copyright attorneys by association) could be seen one way to keep the mutli-nationals away from the industry.

Comments Off on Tags: artists' rights · Copyright Law · pop culture · tattoos